A team of five students from Wayzata High School in Plymouth has been named a finalist in a prestigious national math competition.
The group is one of several from more than 760 teams to be selected as finalists in the MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge. The winners will be announced at the end of this month, when scholarships ranging from $5,000 to about $25,000 will be awarded to the top teams.
Wayzata High has participated in MathWorks since 2013, said math teacher Bill Skerbitz, the team’s coach. The school has been a finalist before and was the overall winner in 2013, he said.
The teams were presented with a question in late February or early March and given 14 hours to solve it and write a 20-page paper on it. This year’s question required students to predict what percentage of semitrailer trucks will be electric over the next several years and decades, and establish the number and locations of charging stations across the country.
“It’s pretty intense to be able to analyze data, find resources, come up with a solution that often uses pretty sophisticated mathematics, and then write a paper on it,” Skerbitz said.
Judges then reviewed the papers and selected the top teams. The finalists ordinarily travel to New York City to present their findings, but that part of the competition was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senior George Lyu, was disappointed this year’s team couldn’t go to New York City, a trip he said was “full of math and learning new ways to look at mathematical-like problems. And it was extremely fun and informative.”
Skerbitz and Lyu said MathWorks is different from more traditional math competitions, in that it allows students to apply math principles to real-world problems.
“This competition has, at least for me, taught me that math is more than just something that you do on a test for school. It’s a wider application,” Lyu said.
The chemistry on this year’s team of Lyu, Brian Lin, Zachary Xiong, Andrew Yang and Audrey Yang was a factor in its success, Skerbitz said.
“It’s not just all about mathematics — it’s also about being able to research, being able to summarize, being able to write well, and you really have to try to find a good collection of students that can work together,” Skerbitz said.
Katrina Pross (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.